Ruling

04135-18 Iqbal v birminghammail.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      22nd November 2018

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04135-18 Iqbal v birminghammail.co.uk

Summary of Complaint 

1. Ejaz Iqbal complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the birminghammail.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Erdington DIY shop slammed with £10k fine for fly-tipping in Aston”, published on 18 June 2018. 

2. The article said that the complainant’s company had been prosecuted as part of a council ‘crackdown’ on dumped waste, “after dumping huge piles of waste around Aston”. It said that images taken by the council had shown piles of abandoned waste on Aston Lane in January 2017, and that council officers had searched this “flytipped waste” and found links to the complainant’s company. The article said that, as a result of this, the council had launched an investigation into the complainant’s business. 

3. The article went on to report the content of a series of tweets issued by the council in relation to the matter. The first said that “’The business was investigated and stated that cardboard and plastic waste was returned to the Birmingham premises from their three other shops...at [one site] the business admitted burning small paper items in the back yard once a month’”. The article went on to describe how the council “revealed that the remaining cardboard waste was collected once or twice a week by a regular van collector, which was operated by a mystery man”. It said that the business had “then failed to provide any documentation to show how their waste was disposed”, and had pleaded guilty to two offences under the Environmental Protection Act. 

4. The article concluded by stating that the complainant’s business had been “fined £10,500 for the flytipped waste”, plus costs. The article included an image of piles of cardboard waste captioned “flytipping at Aston Lane”, and another image of captioned “Birmingham City Council tweeted images of the flytipping”. 

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate: his business had not been fined for “dumping piles of waste, and the court proceedings had related to the production of documents relating to the disposal of waste, not to fly-tipping. He said that the business had neither been charged nor convicted for fly-tipping, and that it was therefore inaccurate to state that it had been fined in relation to such a charge. He said that the images included in the article were misleading because they did not relate to the court proceedings; one of the images was of the business’ own backyard, and was not therefore a ‘fly tipping’ site. The complainant also said that it was misleading to state that the waste was collected by a “mystery man”: it was collected by a licensed waste disposal company, and this had been heard in court. Finally, the complainant said that it was inaccurate to state that his business had failed to provide appropriate documentation: this documentation had been provided in court. 

6. The complainant provided a charge sheet which indicated that the charges against his company had related to failing “to secure on the transfer of waste that the transfer was to an authorised person…contrary to section 34(1) and (6) of the Environmental Protection Act” and to failing to comply with a demand issued under section 35 requiring it to supply written information of how it was disposing of its waste, contrary to section 34(6). 

7. The publication denied that the article was significantly inaccurate, and that it had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article. It said that the article had been based on a string of tweets published by the council, including one which stated that “Flytipped waste that was found to be linked to a #Brum building merchant has led to the firm being hit with a £10,500 fine after a prosecution by the city council”. The council had also tweeted that “officers from the…Waste Enforcement Unit searched flytipped waste on Aston Lane in Aston. Cardboard and plastic waste was found and identified as linked to [the complainant’s company]”. The publication said that, in these circumstances, the article was not significantly inaccurate. It said that the images included in the article had also been published by the council as part of the Twitter thread, and did not therefore give a misleading impression. In addition, the publication said that the council’s tweets had described the waste being collected by an “unknown man”, and had stated that “The business, as it is legally required if requested, failed to provide any documentation as to how its waste was disposed”; it therefore denied that the references to a “mystery man” and to a failure to provide documentation were misleading. 

8. Although it denied any breach of the Code, the publication said that it had amended the article’s headline in response to the initial complaint, to read “Why Erdington DIY shop was ordered to pay more than £13,000”. It had also appended the following clarification to the article: 

The original version of this article was headlined ‘A DIY shop has been hit with a £10,000 fine after dumping huge piles of waste around Aston’. We are happy to confirm that [the complainant’s company] was not found guilty of illegal dumping, or flytipping. In fact, the store pleaded guilty to controlling/transferring waste without taking reasonable measures and failing “to provide any documentation as how its waste was disposed” (failing to comply with duty imposed by Section 34a 1a/2a of Secretary of State requirements). The business was fined £13,000.  

Relevant Code Provisions 

9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text. 

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator. 

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for. 

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. 

Findings of the Committee 

10. The complainant’s company had pleaded guilty in relation to charges that related to a failure to ensure that waste was transferred to an authorised person, and with appropriate documentation, and failing to produce when asked details of how its waste was disposed. The publication had based its claims that the company had engaged in “fly-tipping” and had ‘dumped’ “huge piles of waste” on the city council’s tweets on the matter. The tweets had been ambiguous, in that they had made clear that the waste was “linked” to the complainant’s company, but had not stated that the company itself had “dumped” the waste. The publication had not been able to rely on any contemporaneous report of what was heard in court in relation to the matter, to support its claim that the company had itself dumped the waste. In these circumstances, there was a failure to take care over the claims that the complainant’s company had been fined for “fly-tipping” and had ‘dumped’ “huge piles of waste”, in breach of Clause 1(i). Because this gave a misleading impression as to the charges the company had pleaded guilty to, it required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). The clarification the publication had offered made clear what these charges had been, and had been offered with sufficient promptness and prominence. There was therefore no breach of Clause 1(ii). 

11. The complainant’s company had pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide documentation to show how it disposed of its waste. It was not therefore inaccurate to state that “the business then failed to provide any documentation to show how their waste was disposed”, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. 

12. The council’s tweets had described how “the remaining cardboard waste was collected once or twice a week by a regular collector in a van, operated by an unknown man”. The publication had reported that a “mystery man” had collected the waste. The publication was entitled to rely on the council’s tweets, and in this instance had not gone beyond their strict meaning; there was no failure to take care over this characterisation in breach of Clause 1(i). In addition, the complainant’s company had pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to secure the transfer of its waste in compliance with the law, and in these circumstances, the use of the term did not give rise to any misleading impression of the company’s actions that required correction under Clause 1(ii). 

13. The photos included in the article had been taken from the council’s posts on Twitter in relation to the matter. The photos showed waste in relation to which the council had found the complainant’s company responsible, and in relation to which it had pleaded guilty to two charges; neither of the captions for these images indicated that the company had “dumped” the waste pictured, and the article described the images as showing “flytipped waste”, which was not misleading. There was no failure to take care over the inclusion of the images, in breach of Clause 1(i), and they did not give rise to any misleading impression that required correction under Clause 1(ii), even if one of the images showed waste in the complainant’s own yard. 

Conclusions  

14. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial action required 

15. The publication’s offered clarification addressed the inaccuracy in the article, and had been offered with sufficient prominence and promptness. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii), and this clarification had already been published. No further action was required. 

Date complaint received: 26/06/2018

Date decision issued: 26/10/2018